Why Isn't This A Film? - The Selected Works Of T.S. Spivet

What have we got here then?

The Selected Works Of T.S Spivet, the first novel from Reif Larsen, an American author currently based in Brooklyn. It was released in May of last year and is due for UK paperback release in October of this year.

OK fine. What’s it about?

The novel is written in the first person from the view of Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet. A 12 year old with an extraordinary passion for, and skill at, drawing maps. He maps anything; from the flight paths of birds, to facial expressions, to reasons for being bored. These maps lead to the Smithsonian Institute giving him an award and T.S. sets out on a journey across America in order to get to Washington and accept it.

Interesting. Is there something more?

Yes. Larsen does something really unique by only printing text across roughly two-thirds of the page. In the margin that is created in the remaining third we are treated to the illustrations and ‘maps’ T.S. talks about on his journey. Larsen also isn’t afraid to get a bit existential and the final third in particular brings in big questions about what we are reading.

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

The maps are a really great way to supplement the story and provide a really unique visual aide. In other novels that have attempted similar, I’ve found myself skipping the footnotes and references but here they’re really compelling and are integral to our understanding of the story and of how T.S’s mind works. The final third, whatever its implication, is a real step-change from the previous two and makes for a really interesting denouement whilst forcing the reader to really question what they’re reading and seeing through T.S's eyes.


Although the first third is well paced and serves as an involving introduction, the middle third really loses the plot somewhat. Whilst Larsen could detail the adventures of T.S trying to cross America on his own, he instead puts him on a train and gives him a book to read which we then get as part of his ‘Selected Works’. The book within a book (about T.S’s ancestry) is interesting enough but you can’t help but feel there was a more compelling story here somewhere.

Also, for the final third to work, something has to be suggested at the end of the second third. The book handles this well and its very last line certainly suggests that our suspicions might be true. However, it does turn what was a free-flowing adventure story into something else, something perhaps a bit darker and heavier of philosophy. It’ll depend on your tastes whether you like this or not. For me it just about worked and I did find myself thinking about it for days afterwards. For younger readers, the hints at what has actually happened will probably go straight over their heads.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

Probably excellent. If it sells well in paperback then look for it to be almost guaranteed a trip to the screen. The implication to do with the final third may well be dropped but it would still make a more basically interesting adventure story although I can imagine Larsen being none-to-impressed with that course of events.

Will it be any good?

A difficult one to call as there are so many different things that could be done to it. If someone brave and with real studio weight (Spielberg for argument’s sake) was to get their hands on it and keep the ambiguity then we could really be looking at something. If it gets dumbed down into a standard child-driven adventure then its not really got anything to make it stand out from the crowd at the moment as, obviously, the written maps would probably be dropped.

Anything else I should know about it?

This Guardian review is pretty spot-on. I agree with almost every word and it gives a much fuller overview of the plot for those who have had their interest piqued.

Why Isn't This A Film? is another new Film Intel feature which takes a book (you know... one of those things with pages in, doesn't project on to a screen, makes small rustling noises), comic or graphic novel and assesses its adaptation prospects. One day this feature will get something right and we will win something major and valuable. Possibly.


  1. Oh, man, I could totally be your advisor for this shit! I've read a million books that should be movies.

    Anyway, great new segment.

  2. Well let me know about them! I always think that when I finish a book but then, a week or so later, I end up forgetting about it. At least this gives a home to my misconceptions!

  3. For instance, Bloodsucking Fiends, or any Christopher Moore book. The Spellman Files, The Oblivion Society, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. They all scream 'failed screenplay'.

  4. I've read The Curious Incident... and I'm sure I remember reading somewhere that an adaptation was planned for that. The others though, I've not even heard of. I'll look them up when I clear some of my current reading pile. Thanks for the pointers!